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Marine Life & Conservation

Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills

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The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.  

The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.  

Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEOUntreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk. 

We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”  

Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm. 

Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean. 

The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.  

Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours. 

According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards. 

Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation SocietyUntreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”  

In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.  

A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored. 

Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant. 

“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”. 

If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.   

For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.

Header image credit: Natasha Ewins

Marine Life & Conservation

UK Shark Fin ban moves closer to becoming law

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Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation’s relentless campaigns to make Britain shark fin-free reached a new milestone last week when a private member’s bill to ban the import and export of shark fins was voted through parliament with unanimous cross-party support.

The bill is now scheduled for three readings in the House of Lords and, if successful, it will then go to King Charles for Royal Ascent and become law.

Campaign director for Bite-Back, Graham Buckingham, said:

“Our goal of ending Britain’s ties with the global shark fin trade is within our reach. This country has a dark history of exporting around 20 tonnes of shark fins every year and it remains legal to bring up to 20kg of dried shark fins through Customs without needing to declare it. This bill could represent a significant blow to the multi-million-pound shark fin industry. It’s now down to the House of Lords to smooth its path to the palace.”

Since July 2022 the charity has been consulting the Labour MP Christina Rees who put forward the private member’s bill after the government failed to bring its Animal Welfare Bill, that promised to ban the import and export of shark fins, into law last year.

To help improve support for the bill, Bite-Back also created a briefing document on the issues for all MPs to reference. During the bill’s final reading in the House of Commons MPs from different parties wholeheartedly endorsed the ban on the import and export of shark fins.

In her closing statement Christina Rees MP said that she hoped this bill would ‘drive up the standards of global shark conservation’.

Bite-Back will now turn its attention to educating and inspiring members of the House of Lords to vote in favour of a ban.

Follow the bill’s progress at www.bite-back.com and learn how you can get involved in supporting shark conservation initiatives in the UK.

Header image: Finned sharks underwater- Copyright – Scubazoo.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Trust calls for global shark citizen scientists

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Never let a shark sighting go to waste!

The Shark Trust has launched a new smartphone app that makes it simple for everyone to get involved in shark science and conservation. The new app brings together five citizen science projects into one place, allowing users to report: shark sightings, eggcase finds, Basking Shark observations, angling catches, and incidents of shark entanglement with marine litter.

Through these projects, anyone with an interest in sharks, skates and rays can contribute to important research and have a lot of fun along the way. The findings can be submitted from anywhere in the world and will help scientists by providing a range of vital data from some of the 1200+ species of sharks, skates and rays that swim in our ocean.

As users submit their findings across the five citizen science projects, they will build a logbook of their research contributions. These are saved in their profile and shared with the wider community, so users can see what other people have recently been discovering.

Alongside this important citizen science aspect, there are also 50 collectible shark cards to unlock: 30 bronze cards, 15 silver cards, and five gold cards. Submitting to any of the projects unlocks a card at random, so you never know what you’re going to find!

Shark Trust App for Great Eggcase Hunt: Image by James Harris

The Shark Trust’s flagship citizen science project, the Great Eggcase Hunt, which encourages the public to find the empty eggcases (or mermaid’s purses) of sharks and skate on the beach or submit those seen developing in situ, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Senior Conservation Officer Cat Gordon says “We’re really excited to be celebrating the Great Eggcase Hunt’s 20th anniversary this year! As part of the celebrations, we’re releasing this brand-new citizen science app, hosting a public evening event, and planning a special edition of the Trust’s membership magazine Shark Focus. The project has grown substantially since 2003, when we received just 128 records in the first year, to having a staggering 50,212 individual eggcases recorded in 2022 alone! In total, we’ve received over 370,000 eggcases since the project began, and we hope the app inspires even more people to get out and about in search of mermaid’s purses!

The Great Eggcase Hunt element of the app features eggcases from species which can be found in the Northeast Atlantic, as well as those in Australia (working in partnership with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation). In time we will add identification materials from more regions, but until then, records can still be submitted from outside these areas. This app replaces the previous Great Eggcase Hunt app which was launched in 2014 – so if you previously used that then please delete it and download the new version!

If you are interested in sharks, skates and rays and want to help contribute towards research and conservation, the Shark Trust citizen science app is for you. Everyone from the occasional beachgoer to seasoned divers and anglers can get involved.

Paul Cox, Shark Trust CEO, says “For a while we’ve wanted to make it easier and more fun for people to identify and record their sightings. Thanks to a generous donation from Animal Friends Pet Insurance, we’ve been able to create this great tool with local gamification specialists, Kazow Games. We’re really excited to get this app out into the world and start to see more recorders getting involved with our projects.”

Search for ‘Shark Trust’ in the relevant app store, download the app today, and start recording your findings. We are already working on some exciting updates and are still welcoming feedback, so if you have opportunity to try it out, please let us know what you think!

Let’s build a global community of citizen scientists who can help protect these incredible animals together!

Find out more on the Shark Trust website.

Header image: James Harris

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